Danny Brown pushes rap’s limits on newest album

Chris Duncan

Rap music’s resident wild card Danny Brown made his name writing some of the most aggressively insane tales the genre has seen this decade. With his newest album, Atrocity Exhibition, he’s hit his stride, dabbling in some of the most abrasive styles his genre can offer.

Danny Brown broke out onto the rap scene with his second studio album, XXX, which displayed his ability to find humor in the darkest of subject matters. XXX stood out among the crowd in 2011 because it showed that hardcore hip hop didn’t have to be a one-dimensional affair and rappers could experiment with strange syncopations and alternative flows. Now, two albums later, Brown is tying in some of his most serious content to make Atrocity Exhibition his most chaotic release to date.

The hectic style of Danny Brown is on full display with this album in almost every element. Of the 15 tracks on Atrocity Exhibition, only one is longer than four minutes, and each song often transitions without warning, bringing to mind the likes of MF DOOM and Madlib on their legendary collaboration Madvillainy.

Brown’s lyrical tongue twisters are more than challenging, taking stabs at explaining his conflicted love for drugs even though he knows it will do nothing but harm him. Over a cluttered beat, Brown kicks off his album with “Downward Spiral,” the tale of a three-day drug binge while trapped in a room with his demons. By the second verse, Brown gets hyper depressive when he raps, “Everybody say, you got a lot to be proud of, been high this whole time, don’t realize what I done, cause when I’m all alone, feel like no one care, isolate myself and don’t go nowhere.”

After the first tracks, Brown dives further down the rabbit hole, discussing his demented perspective on addiction, mental illness and drug dealing. The world Brown inhabits is sick and dark, and he constantly finds himself wallowing in the ups and downs of life, changing perspectives with ease from track to track. Highlights include the eclectic and catchy “Pneumonia” and the no-way-out blunt attitude of “Ain’t It Funny.”

Production wise, each song takes its own jagged approach to beat creation, bringing in grimy synths and annoying hi-hats to disturb the listener. It’s surprising Brown even considered writing lyrics to pair with some of these beats — most other rappers in modern music would have outright rejected adding lyrics over the clashing production style of this album. That’s what makes the experience of Atrocity Exhibition so special: There’s nothing like it. Atrocity Exhibition is such a varied and engaging listen, it’s near impossible not to get hooked on Brown’s drug.

Joy Division is an obvious influence on Atrocity Exhibition, not only because its namesake is the Joy Division song of the same name, but because of the album’s overall feeling as well. Anger and despair ravage Brown throughout this LP, and he seemingly turns from fear to joy and back on a dime. In a similar manner to the Joy Division track “Disorder,” Brown often takes his time to develop a story, but does so in a more manic fashion than Joy Division ever would.

Individually, all of these elements have surfaced at one point in the recent history of rap. However, hip hop has almost never seen these elements woven together so beautifully. This is most certainly Brown’s wildest release to date and probably one of the craziest hip hop records not just of this year, but of all time.